The Change-Management Challenge of Increasing IT Smarts

Yesterday, a CIO said to me: "It's time to increase the IT-smarts of the rest of the business. They are demanding more direct control and they are ready for it."

To which I replied, "Congratulations and condolences. Get ready, for an uphill climb."

Boosting IT-smarts is a change-management challenge. But classic change-management approaches often fall short because they focus on the logical, rather than psychological, aspects of change. Behavior and decisions are driven not only by rational but also irrational factors, including behavioral norms, old patterns and short-term gratification. There's a wonderful article published by McKinsey last year entitled, "The Irrational Side of Change Management," that sheds light on the elements of human nature that often stymie successful change.

This CIO, and any CIO or IT leader interested in fostering IT-smarts, should consider this research as they define their change program. To jump start this definition, here are eight steps that I believe are critical to creating an IT-smart enterprise:

  1. Assess current performance
  2. Make sure the IT house is in order
  3. Focus where the pain is worth the gain
  4. Tell a good story
  5. Target people who like to change
  6. Use action-based versus classroom learning
  7. Deliver tools that empower self-sufficiency
  8. Incentivize the right behaviors

In this post, let's tackle the first four. We'll tackle the rest in the next post.

1. Assess current performance. Survey business and IT leaders to assess how they perceive the importance and value of IT, manage the IT asset, and view the quality of the IT-business partnership (if you would like a copy of my survey, click here). Use the results of the survey to understand strengths and weaknesses and identify opportunities, then use them as a baseline to gauge progress going forward.

2. Make sure the IT house is in order. Don't expect the other parts of the business to get smarter about IT if the IT organization isn't already smart about the business. At a minimum, make sure that transparent IT planning and prioritization processes are in place, everyone understands what services are delivered and how to submit requests, and IT has a solid track record for delivering on commitments and running efficiently.

3. Focus efforts where the pain is worth the gain. Find out where Pareto lives and target your IT-smart efforts accordingly. What systems are used across the organization? What systems impact your external customers? What key initiatives are planned or underway that are critically important to the business? Don't work in the background, but demonstrate the impact of IT-smarts in the foreground, where the results will have impact and be noticed.

4. Tell a good story and make sure that it is written collaboratively. Stories are one of the best ways to capture and retain attention, but only if they resonate across a broad audience. To write an effective story, sketch the outline, leave a lot of white space, and get others engaged in filling in the details. Make sure the story balances issues of the past with promises for the future, benefits the external customers, and taps into the hopes, needs, fears, and conflict that exist within the business.

At this point in the process, the CIO/IT leader has identified the high impact opportunities for increasing IT-smarts (and if there are soft spots in IT that need to be shored up, is addressing those first.) In addition, he has built a coalition for change by crafting a story that resonates up, down, and, across the organization. He is now ready to define the tactics to translate the strategy into action.

In the next post, we will discuss the final four steps to help CIOs transform the company into the very model of the modern, IT-smart enterprise.

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